Agricultural sector a source of confidence for South Australia in tough times

For almost 75 years, advisory and accounting firm William Buck has been working with primary producers and agribusiness operators right across South Australia.

While the COVID-19 pandemic brings with it a range of very real challenges for farmers and regional communities, William Buck’s Head of Agribusiness Ben Trengove said SA was better positioned than most given the calibre of its agricultural sector.

“The proven resilience and innovation within our agricultural sector should be a source of confidence for all South Australians at this difficult time,” Mr Trengove said.

“From the farming families and businesses we deal with, I sense a steely determination to roll up the sleeves and push on through.

“These are people who are used to responding to difficult situations, holding fast and emerging on the other side.

“While the challenges South Australians face are very real, having these experienced agricultural families and business operators in our home state is a valuable reassurance.”

Mr Trengove said the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the importance of agriculture to the economy and, even more importantly, to the livelihoods of South Australians.

“At a time of such global volatility, food quality and security is vital,” he said.

“The community wants to know it has a reliable local source of food – and that is what we have in SA.”

However, COVID-19 has forced agribusinesses to make significant changes to operations.

“COVID-19 is having a mixed impact across the sector depending on the particular industry subset,” he said.

“All operators, though, are having to adapt to this new environment in some way.

“From across the supply chain to the end consumer, there are many variables agribusinesses have to take into account in their day-to-day operations and forward planning.

“One benefit is the low Australian dollar which is providing some relief for exporters.

“While wine producers have been hit hard by the closure of licensed venues and a decline in exports, some are seeing increased demand for more affordable lines and strong online and mail direct sales.

“Some fresh fruit and vegetable producers such as lettuce and cucumber growers are continuing to experience good demand. However, with a reduction in restaurant trade, there has been a shift with less demand for ‘fancy lines’ and an increase in demand for more traditional varieties like iceberg lettuce.

“We’ve also spoken with nut producers who are noticing a pick-up in domestic demand as customers seek out healthy food snacks with long shelf lives.

“We have seen some broadacre operators bringing forward their purchases of fertiliser and chemicals to shore up supply inputs as a precaution.

“Like other industries, agricultural operators have also been quick to adapt to social distancing in the workplace.

“Some are managing shift crossovers to limit physical contact between crews as well as cleaning down equipment and workspaces in between shifts.”

Mr Trengove said the broader community impacts of social distancing could also create significant challenges over time for those living and working in regional SA.

“Restrictions on social gatherings will be felt particularly hard in regional South Australia given the important role of community activities such as weekend sport,” he said.

“There is a strong link between community activities, workplace morale and good mental health in the country – and no doubt this will be put to the test.”